Right In Toon

The chances are that none of you know this, but I am a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan. I have been a Wanderer since I was about eight when I asked my Dad who the local teams are, and thought the name ‘Wolves’ sounded the coolest. For the record, until that point, I was officially an Everton fan, following in my father’s footsteps. There have been plenty of times when I curse my eight-year old self, but gold and black now flows through my veins, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It might seem strange then that this blog is not about Wolves, but instead about our opponents this weekend.

Of the 23 teams who have played Premier League football this season and last, a surprisingly high ten have made a net transfer profit. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that Manchester City top the spending chart, edging ahead of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, but those teams who have made a profit may be slightly more unexpected. A cursory glance at the list of teams* suggests that only one of these sides has truly over performed, and this being the side who has made a profit of £25 million in this period.

Imagine supporting a newly promoted club with all the pressures of survival. Add to this, the manager who took the team up being sacked halfway through the season, and then the club’s star striker being sold on the last day of the transfer window without any real replacement. Then, to make matters worse, the club’s captain, talisman and most sought after player all also depart the club over the summer. How many other clubs could really have dealt with the loss of Chris Hughton, Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and José Enrique? Perhaps the larger clubs would easily cope with the loss of these players ability wise, but then compare this to how much Newcastle United actually relied on these players. For this, Alan Pardew has to take a hell of a lot of credit.

There was general mirth last December when Alan Pardew signed a massive five and a half year contract at Newcastle, seemingly on the back of a relationship he had built with Newcastle director Derek Llambias in a London casino. Indeed, given that only 5.5% of Geordies were happy with the appointment of Pardew, this seemed like a bigger gamble than any that Llambias or owner Mike Ashley would have placed in their lives. But, Pardew had generally done a better job in his previous roles than his reputation had allowed you to believe. He was unlucky not to take Reading to the Premier League, losing to Wolves in the 2003 playoff semi-finals, before taking charge of West Ham United. Here, although it took longer than expected to return to the top-flight, he probably set the bar too high for himself with a ninth position finish in the Premier League, and reaching the 2006 FA Cup Final, only to be denied by Steven Gerrard’s latest attempt at playing superman.

But it wasn’t to be at West Ham, and it was from here that there was a general downward trend. The signings of Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tévez seemed to disrupt the squad, and he was sacked. Pardew found employment at Charlton Athletic, but the club was in serial decline with Pardew unable to make a difference. He was forced to drop a level, taking over at Southampton, where despite starting the season with a minus-ten goal difference, the Saints narrowly missed out on a playoff position, but he was able to bring the club silverware for the first time since the 1976 FA Cup victory. But, again he was sacked. It had seemed like his chance to manage at the top of English football was gone.

But, then he got the Newcastle job, and despite losing a number of important signings, he has managed to bring in a number of canny replacements. In addition to Hughton’s signing of Hatem Ben Arfa, Pardew has made a number of signings from France, most notably Yohan Cabaye who appears to have settled in like the proverbial duck to water. As a result, Newcastle are currently fourth in the table, averaging two points a match – just 28 points are needed from the final 32 games to secure that magical 40 point mark although I don’t think many on Tyneside will be expecting a relegation fight. Perhaps more significantly at this stage, they have the best defensive record in the league; an area has that has continually confounded a number of Newcastle managers over the past twenty years. While no one seriously expects Newcastle to still be in the Champions League places come May, it has to be recognised what a good job Pardew has done in keeping the club progressing when it could so easily be going downhill. Now, with a bit of luck I’ve jinxed them this weekend…

*Arsenal, Birmingham City, Tottenham Hotspur, Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Wigan Athletic, Everton and Newcastle United

Tom Bason

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